WEAVING MEDICAL NARRATIVE AND CUTTING-EDGE SCIENCE, DR. MIMI GUARNERI EXPLORES THE FRONTIERS BEYOND THE PHYSICAL HEART.
Every day, 2,600 Americans die of cardiovascular disease -- one person every thirty-three seconds. Ten times more women die of heart disease than breast cancer. Despite remarkable interventional and surgical procedures, over 650,000 new heart attacks occur annually. With groundbreaking new research, Dr. Guarneri skillfully blends the science and drama of the heart's unfolding. She reveals the heart as a multilayered, complex organ and explores the new science that indicates the heart acts as a powerhouse of its own, possessing intelligence, memory, and decision-making abilities that are separate from the mind.
When Dr. Guarneri was only eight, her vivacious forty-year-old mother died of a heart attack. To overcome the powerlessness she felt that night in Brooklyn when her mother was taken from her, she became a cardiologist -- healing her own heart by healing the hearts of her patients. Dr. Guarneri spent her early years as an overworked, sleep-deprived medical student, trained to view the heart as a simple mechanical pump. She came to realize through the lives of her patients, her own medical journeys, and breakthroughs in heart research that medicine is not just about stitching up patients and sending them on their way. The heart may be "broken" as much by loneliness and depression as high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure. The lessons of the heart are as much about forgiveness and gratefulness as they are about genetics and nutrition. And healing the heart can have much more to do with healing a mind and soul than we ever knew.
From the racing heartbeats of cardiac emergencies to the gentle rhythms of healing touch, Dr. Guarneri draws us into the intimate moments of life and death. She leads us on a riveting exploration of the heart's mysteries, such as why heart transplant recipients may suddenly display unique characteristics of their donor or why someone who has normal coronary arteries may experience a heart attack. For it is only by knowing the whole heart -- the mental heart, affected by hostility, stress, and depression; the emotional heart, able to be crushed by loss; the intelligent heart, with a nervous system all its own; the spiritual heart, which yearns for a higher purpose; and the universal heart, which communicates with others -- that we can truly heal.
A lyrical writer as well as a cardiologist, the author, founder and medical director of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, describes how she learned that beyond the power of our most sophisticated medical equipment is a physician's humanity-"the listening ear, the healing touch, the devices of healers throughout time." Guarneri became highly accomplished at angioplasty and stent procedures, but came to realize that those she treated could also be helped by proper nutrition and stress reduction techniques such as yoga and visualization. She became committed to practices such as those of Dean Ornish, with whom she has worked, to reverse coronary disease with diet, exercise, meditation and support groups. Guarneri studied the link between depression and heart disease, and opened her mind to the validity of other alternative treatments, including energy healing, visualization before and after surgery, and spiritual practices. What is particularly attractive about this chronicle is the author's graceful integration of her own story-the destructive effect on her of stress and overwork-into those of her patients. Guarneri deplores the financial constraints that prevent doctors from spending time with patients and that many physicians have developed "a mechanic's mentality," focused on fixing rather than getting to know their patients. (Feb. 7) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 01, 2007
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Excerpt from The Heart Speaks by Mimi Guarneri
The Unexamined Heart
In my work at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California, we teach a technique called guided imagery, in which patients are asked to visualize goals for their future lives. But when I was a girl this was called daydreaming, and I did it on my own.
Sitting on the stoop of my grandmother's brownstone apartment house in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where my father, brothers, and I lived after my mother's death, I watched Mrs. Puleo pushing her colicky twins under the elevated subway to the park; I saw Mrs. Calmino leading her husband home after a night of drinking; and I imagined another kind of life for myselfýwhere I wouldn't be known for my homemade sausage or crocheted doilies, where I wouldn't be waiting at a window, darning someone else's socks.
Even as a child, I was a triple type A personality. I wanted to kick the ball down the street as high as the boys did; I wanted to be the first in my class to read. I wanted to grow into the kind of woman I'd never known but had read about in booksýan updated version of Marie Curie, brave in her radium lab, being unwittingly poisoned by the very substance she discovered.
I envisioned my sovereign self in the center of an elaborate futureýwhere I'd have a house of my own with a pool and be engaged in valiant work that would help improve the world.
This was the future I was imagining as I sat on the stoop in Brooklyn. As a girl, I needed this steaming, stifling neighborhood, where everyone knew your business, where the whole street smelled of marinara sauce on Wednesday nights and fried fish on Fridays.
Growing up in the tight-knit, insular world of Brooklyn in the early sixties, I felt as if I were dangling my foot in another century. Italian immigrants and their descendants populated my neighborhood. Climbing roses and backyard grape arbors, lacy Communion dresses and social clubsýin these and other ways, our community was as traditional and family centered as the Italian villages they'd left behind.
With my olive skin and dark hair, I could have stepped out of a sepia photograph of these turn-of-the-century immigrants. I was Italian on both sides of my family, as pure as the olive oil that my grandmother stocked in our family store.
The safe predictability of Bensonhurst was a comfort after my mother's death from a myocardial infarction. When I looked this up in our dictionary, it read: "the death of heart muscle from the sudden blockage of a coronary artery by a blood clot." But I still couldn't understand how this could happen.
At night I pressed my hand over my own heart to calm my fears that it might suddenly stop. I was amazed that I could actually feel my heart, a perpetual drumbeat keeping me alive, unlike my brain or liver.